The HSE is warning that deaths in people aged 75 years and over can rise by up to 60 per cent more during hot spells.
The caution comes as the good summer weather is set to continue with Tuesday having been the hottest day of the year.
People with heart, respiratory and serious health problems are more at risk of potentially adverse effects of very warm weather while babies and young children are also especially at risk, says Dr Kevin Kelleher, the HSE’s assistant national director for health protection, and Dr Tony Holohan, the Department of Health’s chief medical officer.
Staying well in the sun is mostly a matter of common sense, they say. They suggest that people should listen to the local weather forecast so they know if a heatwave is on the way and then plan ahead to reduce the risk of ill health.
They advise that while the heat can affect anyone, the following are most at risk of serious harm:
· Older people, especially those over 75.
· Babies and young children.
· People with serious mental health problems.
· People on certain medication.
· People with a serious chronic condition, particularly breathing or heart problems.
· People who already have a high temperature from an infection.
· People who misuse alcohol or take illicit drugs.
· People with mobility problems.
· People who are physically active, like manual workers and athletes.
They offer the following guidelines on staying cool, what to do if you are unwell and advice on the use of medicines during very warm weather:
Top tips for keeping cool
It is best avoid getting too hot in the first place. Remember to think of those who may be more at risk from the effects of heat.
Stay out of the heat:
· Keep out of the sun between 11am and 3pm.
· If you have to go out in the heat, walk in the shade, apply sunscreen with UVA protection and wear a hat and light scarf.
· Avoid extreme physical exertion. If you can’t avoid strenuous outdoor activity, like sport, DIY or gardening, keep it for cooler parts of the day, like early morning or evening.
· Wear light, loose-fitting cotton clothes and a hat to shade face, neck and ears.
· Wear a broad brimmed hat and sunscreen with UVA protection factor 20, 30, 40, or 50 depending on your skin type. If you have children make sure they are properly protected as their skin is extra sensitive.
· Wear sunglasses
Cool yourself down:
· Drink plenty of cold drinks and avoid excess alcohol, caffeine and hot drinks.
· Eat cold foods, particularly salads and fruit with a high water content.
· Take a cool shower, bath or body wash.
· Sprinkle water over the skin or clothing or keep a damp cloth on the back of your neck.
Keep your environment cool:
· Keep your living space cool. This is especially important for infants, the elderly or those with chronic health conditions or those who cannot look after themselves.
· Keep windows that are exposed to the sun closed during the day and open windows at night when the temperature has dropped.
· Close curtains that receive morning or afternoon sun.
· Turn off non-essential lights and electrical equipment - they generate heat.
· Keep plants and bowls of water in the house as evaporation helps cool the air.
· If possible, move into a cooler room, especially for sleeping.
· Electric fans can help but only if temperature is below 35C.
Look out for others:
· Keep an eye on isolated, elderly, ill or very young people and make sure they are able to keep cool.
· Ensure that babies, children or elderly people are not left alone in stationary cars.
· Check on elderly or sick neighbours, family or friends every day during a heatwave.
· Be alert and call a doctor or social services if someone is unwell or further help is needed.
Advice on medicines
· Many prescription medicines can reduce your tolerance of heat. You should keep taking your medicines, but take extra care to keep cool.
· Dangerous symptoms to watch out for in hot weather include: feeling faint and dizzy, short of breath, vomiting or increasing confusion. Take immediate action if symptoms of heatstroke are present - cool down as quickly as possible. However do not take aspirin or paracetamol - this can make you worse. Do however carry on taking all other prescribed medicines. Seek further advice from a doctor or ring 999 if the person has collapsed.
· Keep medicines below 25°C or in the refrigerator (read the storage instructions on the packaging ).
· Seek medical advice if you are suffering from a chronic medical condition or taking multiple medications.
If you or others feel unwell
· Try to get help if you feel dizzy, weak, anxious or have intense thirst and headache; move to a cool place as soon as possible and measure your body temperature.
· Drink some water or fruit juice to rehydrate.
· Rest immediately in a cool place if you have painful muscular cramps (particularly in the legs, arms or abdomen, in many cases after sustained exercise during very hot weather ), and drink oral rehydration solutions containing electrolytes.
· Seek medical attention as needed if heat cramps last more than one hour.
· Consult your doctor if you feel unusual symptoms or if symptoms persist.
Seek advice if you have any concerns:
· Contact your doctor or a pharmacist if you are worried about your health during a heatwave, especially if you are taking medication, if you feel unwell or have any unusual symptoms.
· Watch for cramp in your arms, legs or stomach, feelings of mild confusion, weakness or problems sleeping.
· If you have these symptoms, rest for several hours, keep cool and drink water or fruit juice. Seek medical advice if they get worse or don’t go away.
If you suspect someone has heatstroke:
· Remember, heatstroke can kill. It can develop very suddenly, and rapidly lead to unconsciousness. If you suspect someone has heatstroke, call 999 immediately.
· While waiting for the ambulance move the person somewhere cooler if possible, increase ventilation by opening windows or using a fan and cool the affected person as quickly as possibly by loosening their clothes, sprinkling them with cold water or wrapping them in a damp sheet. If they are conscious, give them water or fruit juice to drink.
. Do not give them aspirin or paracetamol.